“I just looked around, and they were gone, Henry, Bernard and Trent.” Oops, doesn’t have the same ring as the classic song about Dr. King and President Kennedy, does it?
The hit parade these past weeks has rung with the actual resignations of Henry Kissinger and Archbishop Bernard Law, and, as we went to press, innumerable calls for the resignation of Trent Lott, the Mississippi oldie and moldie.
About those resignations: Henry “why-was-he-ever-nominated” Kissinger deserves any public shame, humiliation and war crime accusation that comes his way. Check out the new film, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, if you have any doubts on that score. Ditto Bernard Law, the Catholic leader from Boston, who covered up innumerable sex scandals by hiding the priests who committed them, promoting them sideways to other posts.
As for Trent “Segregation Man” Lott, most interesting is reading the calls for his resignation from conservative to reactionary columnists, who gush over how far we as a country have come from the bad old days. They condemn the Trent-man not so much for bigotry as for poor judgment in speaking out loud about his retrograde politics.
These are the same people who only weeks ago were talking about Strom Thurmond themselves as if he was a symbol of change in the South, since he went from segregationist to voting for more civil rights bills than Trent Lott. However, that’s not saying much.
But look at the battles today. If Dr. King were here, he’d be in the streets protesting against the much-announced war against Iraq, he’d be demanding that our country do the right thing and provide more benefits for poor people during a time of economic depression rather than cutting all benefits to the bone, he’d be fighting to extend voting rights that would help defeat Bush and his ilk. If he were here today, those same pundits who trot out faint praise for Dr. King once a year would be calling for his arrest yet again.
The problem with Trent Lott, for all the conservatives and Bush-men, is that he embarrassed himself and, in so doing, is making it harder to pass Bush’s right-wing policies through Congress. Here they were, basking in the glory of a big win in November, when Trent goes and exposes himself and them too.
Trent would like to turn back the clock to 1948, and support Strom Thurmond’s “State’s Rights” program, code words for racism and reaction. And he has the bad judgment to admit it, not once but multiple times over the years. Trent still hasn’t apologized for voting against civil rights legislation for many years, or for his role leading a fight in the early 1960s to keep his national fraternity as all-white as his alma mater, Ol’ Miss, before federal troops were sent to back up the courage of James Meredith, who had the temerity to expect to attend that public institution.
The reactionary pundits want us to ignore the disconnect between their too late and too little support of the civil rights movement and the current policies they advocate. They were racists then, and though they’ve learned to wrap their racism in a threadbare cloak of civil-rights rhetoric, they are racists now.
Even the anti-affirmative-action icon, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, learned enough as a child in the South to be willing to speak out against cross-burning as terrorism against a whole community, against democracy and justice. He votes against almost every effort to improve the actual conditions and rights of African Americans today, but even he doesn’t want to go back that far, to segregation, lynching, and state-sponsored terrorism against African Americans.
The contradictions abound. Bush condemning Lott for not having the sense to shut up about “the good old days!” Kissinger resigning after only a few days, refusing to expose his list of clients, the people whom he tries to change government policy for, all the while posing as an “elder statesman!” Bernard Law, deep in prayer about whether or not to confess his sins, and whether or not to do any penance!
Some of the senators coming to the defense of Trent Lott damn him with faint praise – saying in effect that he’s said similar things before and gotten away with it, why shouldn’t he get away with it this time? They avoid the question of whether any of these upstanding citizens should have gotten away with their crimes the first time!
If Kissinger wasn’t a war criminal who continues to sell his smarmy expertise to the highest bidder, if Law hadn’t done the unconscionable by in practice helping child molesters continue their molestation, if Lott hadn’t many times proven he supported segregation and opposed civil rights, then they wouldn’t be in trouble today.
They should have done the right thing the first, second and third times around. Since they chose to do the wrong thing repeatedly, resignation is the least we can demand of them. Trent, have you gotten the message yet?
And if Bush was really sincere in his criticism of Lott, shouldn’t he set an example and resign himself? His record is nearly as bad as Trent’s, he is proposing to commit war crimes like Kissinger, and his moral leadership is no better than Bernard’s – so can we look around and find him gone? Our country would be a better place.
Marc Brodine is chair of the Washington State Communist Party. He can be reached at email@example.com